'Local Legends': A documentary that gives a voice to hawkers and tells of the hardships behind each dish

The ever-cheerful Robert tells how he started frying 'char kway teow'— Pictures courtesy of The Other Kitchen
The ever-cheerful Robert tells how he started frying 'char kway teow'— Pictures courtesy of The Other Kitchen

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 17 — Ever wonder about the story behind Ah Weng Koh Hainan Tea each time you had kaya toast and a cup of coffee there? Or how Robert Char Kuey Teow started?

Well, The Other Kitchen Head Albert Wong had those very thoughts each time he ate at some local hawker, hence the birth of Local Legends, a documentary that tells the story of four established hawkers in the Klang Valley.

The 25-minute documentary which premiered in October this year tells the origins of Ah Weng Koh Hainan Tea, Choon Prawn Mee, Robert Char Kuey Teow and Yang Ki Beef Noodles — all local legends in the world of hawkers.

They shared their daily struggles and achievements which made them what they are today. Looking ahead, the four hawkers also shared their aspirations for the next generation to carry on their business.

For this documentary, The Other Kitchen which runs an online food ordering platform (http://other.kitchen) partnered with 48 Production.

Wong, who was also a co-director of the documentary, explained, “We all have fond memories of our favourite hawker food, yet how often do we spare a thought for the men and women who have spent decades enriching Malaysian culture with every pour of their secret broth?”

It took many tries for Robert to perfect his 'char kway teow' including tasting leftovers from customers
It took many tries for Robert to perfect his 'char kway teow' including tasting leftovers from customers

The documentary comes at one of the most challenging times for these hawkers. The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the F&B industry worldwide — from fine dining to street food.

With many grappling to just survive, the documentary also serves to remind us how it can all disappear in a puff of smoke unless their customers support them.

"When a stall shuts down, we miss the food, but to me what it really means is that someone has stopped cooking. There needs to be more awareness I think, that there are people who work tirelessly day in, day out, to give us the food we love,” said Kent Sim, Head of 48 Production and co-director of Local Legends.

Behind your bowl of beef noodles at Yang Ki Beef Noodles is many hours of preparation from 5am to 10pm (left). Yang Ki is famous for their signature beef brisket and radish (front) and their Hakka noodles (back) (right)
Behind your bowl of beef noodles at Yang Ki Beef Noodles is many hours of preparation from 5am to 10pm (left). Yang Ki is famous for their signature beef brisket and radish (front) and their Hakka noodles (back) (right)

Wong echoes the belief that it is much more than just cooking for these hawkers as it's a culture. With the documentary, he hopes that customers will have more empathy for hawkers.

"Some customers may take things for granted because they think they are owed courtesy. We hope to help them to see themselves as part of the equation — to be kind, patient and respectful, and you will receive the same in kind."

In producing the documentary, the team faced many obstacles. Even though filming and the interviews took just two weeks and the post production just over a month, they hit a road bump with the Covid-19 movement restrictions.

Ah Weng Koh is now run by the third generation; they are famous for their Hainan tea as  prepared by one of the family members here (left). The draw at Ah Weng Koh is the 'kaya' toast and Hainan tea (right)
Ah Weng Koh is now run by the third generation; they are famous for their Hainan tea as prepared by one of the family members here (left). The draw at Ah Weng Koh is the 'kaya' toast and Hainan tea (right)
Filming the documentary was done on the film-makers' own time as they had day jobs
Filming the documentary was done on the film-makers' own time as they had day jobs

As some additional scenes needed to be shot, they had to wait another three months before it was completed.

As this project was completely self funded, It was also difficult to juggle both their day jobs and this documentary.

With countless hours of conversations recorded, they had to edit it down to make it a cohesive story. Some parts had to be omitted due to lack of time but they don't rule out sharing the information via different forms in the future.

Ah Choon is the man behind Choon Prawn Mee that has been in business for 30 years (left). The prawn mee at Choon Prawn Mee has deep flavours and you get to choose from a variety of toppings (right)
Ah Choon is the man behind Choon Prawn Mee that has been in business for 30 years (left). The prawn mee at Choon Prawn Mee has deep flavours and you get to choose from a variety of toppings (right)

The selection of hawkers came down to whether they fit the category of a "Local Legend" or what they call, "a hawker with enough reputation and history that it's a part of our local culture."

The response to the documentary has been positive. One viewer said how grateful he was of the effort and pride put into the food served by these hawkers.

The Other Kitchen and 48 Production have plans to turn Local Legends into a series to preserve the stories of Malaysian hawkers. "We are looking to interview more hawkers of different races, food types and histories to reflect Malaysia's vibrant culture."

You can watch the full documentary 'Local Legends' on Facebook: https://bit.ly/2FBZ0kq or Youtube: https://bit.ly/2FE8god

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